Indoor air pollution didn’t become a significant health issue until the late 1980s. Due to the energy shortages of the 1970s, people began to insulate their homes and offices to conserve energy and lower their heating and cooling costs, and new building construction techniques became especially energy-efficient. Prior to that, buildings tended to be drafty – so much so, that there was sufficient air circulation even with doors and windows closed.
NASA conducted research in the late 1980s on the air-filtering effects of common houseplants and concluded that they are extremely effective at reducing indoor air pollution. The researchers found that certain houseplants were able to remove as much as 87% of indoor air pollutants within a 24-hour period. Not only do the plants remove carbon monoxide (which people and animals exhale) replacing it with pure oxygen, but they also have the remarkable ability to remove toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air.
Below is a partial list of beneficial plants that filter out harmful compounds from indoor environments.
The Snake Plant, or Mother-in-law’s Tongue (sansveieria trifasciata), is an ideal indoor plant due to its superb air-purifying abilities. It’s one of the best at filtering out formaldehyde, which is common in toilet paper, tissues and cleaning products.
Snake Plants don’t need a lot of light or water and are very easy to care for.
Interestingly, this plant absorbs carbon monoxide and releases oxygen at night (most plants do the opposite). So having a couple of Snake Plants in the bedroom will give you a slight oxygen boost and help you awaken feeling refreshed.
The Peace Lily (spathiphyllum) only needs a shady place and weekly watering to survive and to flower occasionally. It’s a hardy and forgiving plant and will let you know when it’s thirsty — just look for the telltale droop.
The Peace Lily topped NASA’s list for its ability to remove all three of the most common Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs – formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene. It’s also effective against toluene and xylene.
This plant does its best work in bathrooms and other damp areas.
English Ivy (hedera helix) is a popular potted household plant, but isn’t much appreciated by gardeners. It’s been called an aggressive invader in forested and open areas, threatening other vegetation by taking over and choking off native species. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem when potted and grown indoors. English Ivy does best in moist soil and prefers at least four hours of direct sunlight each day.
Studies have shown that English Ivy reduces airborne fecal-matter particles and is good at filtering out formaldehyde, which is found in household cleaning products.